RTEs Washington correspondent Robert Shortt reported yesterday on a corruption scandal unfolding in the US capital.
The case involves Harriette Walters, a tax assessment manager, who fraudulently approved up to $50 million in improper tax refunds over a period of 20 years.
What’s interesting about Shortt’s report is his attitude to those involved and his use of language.
His headline “Corruption scandal unravels in US capital.” leaves the reader in no doubt that this is a story about corruption.
Shortt and indeed the American people would be astonished if it was suggested that the word corruption couldn’t be used until a court case or a ten year tribunal had completed its work.
There’s a completely different culture here in Ireland. On Morning Ireland (1st item) last Friday, RTEs Cathal MacCoille, challenged Fine Gael spokesperson on Justice Eugene Regan on his description of Bertie Ahern as a tax dodger.
“You have used the phrase in relation to the Taoiseach which is a serious phrase, indeed in many circumstances it would be a libelous phrase, calling him a tax dodger.”
If Ahern was an American politician we wouldn’t be witnessing media sources timidly suggesting to opposition politicians that they should be careful about their language. Instead, we would be getting reports of Ahern being hauled before the courts in handcuffs to face justice.
Shortt goes on to tell us that the Walters case “Puts the extent of planning corruption in Dublin almost literally in the halfpenny place.” It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Short is not actually Irish or that he has been in Washington for a very long time because, clearly, he has no idea of the extent of the planning corruption that has occurred in Dublin over the decades. The Walters case involves a mere $50 million; planning corruption in Dublin is several multiples of that.
Later, he breathlessly informs us that the most amazing aspect of this story is that it went on for 20 years without anyone noticing. If he was reporting in Ireland he would be in danger of suffocation:
Just a few examples, National Irish Bank and Allied Irish Banks robbed the State and their customers for years and nobody noticed. The Ansbacher and DIRT scams operated for decades and nobody apparently noticed. Planning corruption in Ireland is widespread and barely concealed but apparently nobody notices.
He tells us that it was a diligent bank employee who noticed something wrong and reported it to the authorities. Once the corruption was uncovered, US authorities immediately swung into action. 40 people are under investigation by the FBI, homes have been searched and Walters is in jail. Remember, this is just the initial reaction to the corruption.
This does not happen in Ireland. Reports of corruption from diligent officials are invariably covered up or, if they become public, are side tracked into never ending and powerless tribunals or in some cases, simply ignored.
We had the recent case of Jim Flavin of DCC. Last July, the Supreme Court found that he was guilty of insider trading involving sums of up to €50 million – Nothing has happened.
Flavin is still walking around a free man, still at the helm of DCC, still enjoying all the benefits and respect that all non corrupt citizens are properly due. It can also be said with absolute certainty that Flavin will never be brought to justice; he will never see the inside of a jail.
Because Shortt is working and reporting from a jurisdiction that recognises and acts on corruption he automatically and naturally uses words like rampant corruption, jail, prosecution and embezzlement. Such straight forward and open reporting on corruption is extremely rare in the world of Irish media.
Shortt completes his article by making reference to poverty and corruption. I believe he would be genuinely astonished to learn that most Irish people and a good section of the media are completely ignorant of the direct link between the election of corrupt politicians and the serious consequences such voting habits have on Irish society. If they were so aware we would see corrupt Irish politicians and officials languishing in jail instead of being feted as great patriots.